LAQUILA, Italy - Major polluting nations watered down their ambitions to tackle global warming at a G8 summit in Italy on Wednesday despite growing pressure to set tough targets to cut pollution.
The Group of Eight leading industrialised nations and other major economies -- including China and India -- dropped a pledge to halve global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a European Union official said.
"There is indeed a very strong commitment to identify the global goal for substantially reducing global emissions by 2050, but there is no 50 percent" mentioned in a draft declaration, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Leaders face mounting pressure to make ambitious commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions at the summit in L'Aquila with the clock ticking for a key December meeting in Copenhagen to set international targets.
Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt, whose nation holds the European Union's rotating presidency, stressed that agreeing to an over-arching target to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius would be crucial.
"The G8 and the major economies forum must endorse the goal of limiting global warming to no more than two degrees," Reinfeldt told journalists shortly before the summit got underway.
The temperatures have already risen by about one degree Celsius worldwide over the last century.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that the countries were much closer to securing agreement on the target than they were a year ago at the last G8 summit because the United States was prepared to back it.
"For the first time, now under President (Barack) Obama ... the United States accept the reference of two degrees," he said.
"We are not yet there where we would like to be, but I think that things are shaping (up) for Copenhagen."
Making progress in L'Aquila is crucial to the future success of the Copenhagen meeting because the countries represented here generate 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The EU official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the countries represented in L'Aquila at the summit were "willing" to back the two degree target.
They also agreed that greenhouse gas emissions should peak "as soon as possible" whereas countries belonging to the G8 were seeking a target of 2020 for the peak in pollution, the official added.
On the eve of the summit, a group of international scientists issued an open letter to G8 leaders warning that "warming exceeding two degrees Celsius predicted for later this century would create great risks and have irreversible consequences."
Even with backing for the two degree target, a vast amount of work must be done to nail down more specific objectives necessary to meet that goal, analysts say.
"Developed countries need to pledge cuts of between 25-40 percent by 2020, and they're at eight to 14 percent now," said Kim Carstensen, head of the Worldwide Fund for Nature's Global Climate Initiative.
Policy analyst Niel Bowerman pinned the blame on India and China for the G8 dropping the target of halving emissions by 2050.
"India is not willing to commit to cuts unless the developed countries are willing to make deep cuts by 2020," said Bowerman, executive director of the London-based Climatico think-tank on climate policy.
"Their emphasis is on development and they're not willing to make changes if it will jeopardise their development goals," he told AFP.